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The Age of the Customer

26 February 2018

Businesses focused exclusively on earning are not going to survive the new era. Keeping the customer at the centre point of all the activities is the present and future of all businesses, no matter how de-layered, outsourced, virtualised or re-imagined business becomes.

Customer experience is a defining characteristic of companies today and good customer experience can shift the market entirely. That’s because customers are not just looking for products, they want a seamless user experience, excellent support and the kind of interaction that allows them to build a smarter and faster future. This behaviour has shifted the entire focus of industries—it is truly the age of the customer.

Customer experience comes to life through touch points—the points of interaction where customers engage with people, business and things, and services are exchanged. A customer-centric business looks at things entirely through the eyes of their customer, optimising all touchpoints to match and exceed customer needs.

A touch point can be divided into four categories:

  • Products - Products are the hardware/software, and the services you use to interact with the customer. Your website, for example, is a major point of interaction.

  • Interactions - The interaction can be physical, by phone, or live chat.

  • Messages - The message is delivered via advertising, your brand billboards, TV commercials, the Internet, etc.

  • Settings - The settings which define your touch points are places where your products are seen, such as retail stores, events and shows.

New and emerging technologies - mobile, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), bots, virtual and augmented reality - are creating more touchpoint than ever before. The customer can now interact with the business via many channels such as websites, apps, email, instant messaging, devices and social media platforms. This is putting pressure on many organisations to develop an omnichannel customer interaction capability. But how can a business handle thousands of queries from customers with limited resources?

In a world in which speedy response, pro-active conversations and an outside-in approach to customer experience are key metrics for product or service support, Facebook, for example, has recently launched AI-driven auto bots. These bots generate automatic responses to customer queries, helping to reduce the pressure on its support teams. Another excellent example is an IoT product from Amazon. The programmable ‘dash’ is a cloud-connected button that lets customers reorder a product simply by pushing the button.

We are clearly at an inflection point in terms of how businesses and technologies work together. Companies that cannot integrate technologies will find it difficult to do well in the marketplace.

How urgent is it that they rethink their position? Consider that the overwhelming majority of people in the world (70%) will, according to Motorola, be using smartphones by 2020. This represents a huge number of real-time consumers.

But simply digitizing interactions will not be enough. Nor will personalizing interactions based on customer data and past behaviour. Humans want the real thing.

A few things are missing in the digital world!

Humans have emotions. A slight touch of empathy, creativity and passion in the user experience can set you apart from others. Starbucks is getting the recipe right. In addition to really good beans, its products are built around people.

A new Starbucks employee is not required to work in the first month. The employee just has to drink coffee, interact with colleagues and customers, and bond. One Starbucks employee learned sign language to communicate with a customer who couldn't speak. This kind of passion is what makes all the difference in terms of service.           

The consequence of digital transformation is that businesses need to become more human.

Thus, to become customer-centric, the business faces a double transformation. It needs to reinvent itself from a digital point of view and in terms of how it interacts with customers.

An integrated approach is required, one that starts with the customer experience and incorporates human interaction or intervention.

Key steps include:

  • Understand the profile of your customers – age, LSM, purchasing behaviour, etc.

  • Create a customer experience journey map

  • Gauge the organisation’s level of maturity in terms of customer touchpoints

  • Identify the technologies (analytics, AI, customer intelligence) that can enable the strategy and enhance the customer experience

  • Create an integrated customer experience strategy that incorporates all business functions

  • Execute the strategy in alignment with customer expectations

  • Measure and monitor impacts

  • Use analytics and predictive technologies to refine the customer experience

  • Obtain ongoing feedback from the customer